We were divided into Goths, Punks, Ravers or Hippies for our walk through the churning streets of mid-evening Soho - we were Punks, excited for five minutes then rather wary as our punk guides cajoled us into 'anarchy' between scenes. Charm and novelty go a long way - all the way around Soho in this production, into otherwise inaccessible residential courtyards and closed shops. But charm and novelty cannot make up for a script overlooking theatrical concerns such as complex characters and sophisticated emotional conflict, aiming instead for a barely credible romp through 40 years of history in a string of scenes more concerned with moving the audience between locations than moving us in heart and mind.
There's a young Chinese boy witnessing his father's death by a Soho mafia type, a corrupt policeman, an Italian brother and sister running a restaurant, a black electrician, a Jewish tailor and an inexplicable trumpeter. We went to a wonderful tailor's shop in 1969; we walked through smelly alleyways; we huddled around a noodle stand in 1989 and helped chain some actors to a fence behind a pub in 1984. Soho revellers mocked us, followed us, ignored us, or assumed we were just the usual Soho crowd.
Characters crossed paths, featured in each other's stories and nearly created a rich web of social, emotional and cultural complexity around certain Soho spots. But we were ultimately watching faintly sketched scenes on street corners with snippets of history shoehorned into the dialogue in the most unsubtle ways, making the walkabout experience more akin to a museum's (slightly desperate) 'history brought to life' session than innovative theatre piece. We hope this format returns to the Soho repertoire, hopefully with better luck next time.
SohoStreets at Soho Theatre until 2 May. For more information, go to the Soho Theatre website.